Thursday, July 19, 2012

UK Rust Belt Urban Rebound

I've taken some heat for touting Cleveland's urban rebound. I'm familiar with the backlash. I've been singing the praises of Pittsburgh for 6+ years. There are many reasons to temper my enthusiasm. Chris Briem (Null Space) reminds us of the perils in over-interpreting the data. To much less fanfare, he highlighted Pittsburgh's hidden demographic positives. The two posts are not mutually exclusive. There isn't a paradox. Garbage in, garbage out doesn't mean that there isn't an urban renaissance. For example, see the city center boom in the United Kingdom:

Are urban populations growing because people want to live in cities again or because they have to? It is a mixture of the two, says Tony Travers of the London School of Economics. Moving to London generally enhances a career because so many companies are based there and people change jobs a lot—the so-called “elevator effect”. This may just about be true of Manchester. Lately sticky jobs and housing markets have glued urbanites in place. But supply makes a difference, too. As big cities have welcomed growth in their centres, many small towns have resisted it.

The return to city living is not unique to Britain. Berlin and—at least until recently—some southern European cities have also been growing strongly. In America, the foreclosure crisis has pushed people back into cities and inner suburbs, says William Frey of the Brookings Institution, though it is not clear whether that trend will last.

Emphasis on words of caution added. Urbanists are quick to pop the champagne. Critics and cranks stand at the ready with a rebuttal. Okay, the suburbs and exurbs aren't dying. Neither is the urban core. One is an old trend. The other is a new trend. I'm not waiting for the definitive Census take to declare Pittsburgh is booming. So sue me.

The data points are adding up. What's stark in Manchester, UK is showing up less pronounced in Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Global forces are at work. That has a lot more explanatory power than another dubious data run proving people still like the suburbs. Mesofacts don't change overnight.

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